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U.S. Women Bumped From Top Spot In FIFA World Rankings

United States midfielder Carli Lloyd (center) moves the ball upfield against England during the first half of a SheBelieves Cup match on March 4 in Harrison, N.J. England won the match, 1-0.
Julio Cortez
United States midfielder Carli Lloyd (center) moves the ball upfield against England during the first half of a SheBelieves Cup match on March 4 in Harrison, N.J. England won the match, 1-0.

The U.S. women's national soccer team got some disappointing (and not unexpected) news Friday — it fell out of first place in the FIFA world rankings for the first time in years. The demotion follows a last-place finish in a U.S.-hosted tournament of some of the world's best teams earlier this month.

The U.S. is now No. 2, behind Germany and ahead of France, England and Canada. The American squad has been ranked in the top two spots since FIFA created the world rankings for women back in 2003.

Since the U.S. women won the World Cup in 2015, the team has had a tough go. The U.S. was expected to win gold at the Summer Olympics last year in Rio. (It had won gold in the three previous Olympics.) Instead, the U.S. didn't even medal, losing to Sweden in the quarterfinals.

After the Olympics, the U.S. had a spate of easy wins against mostly non-soccer powerhouses. But when it got to the SheBelieves Cup in March, the team stumbled. It beat Germany but lost to England and France. Afterward, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis said the losses would help the team in the long run.

"Does change sometimes come at a cost? At times, it does. Losing for us can be an unfamiliar experience, but internally we know we are not close to being a finished product and these growing pains will pay off," she said.

Ellis has been tinkering with the starting lineup — choosing youth over experience as she looks to rebuild and deepen the team's bench of players. Some superstars such as Carli Lloyd are getting older. And the absence of arguably the best goalkeeper in the world is noticeable. Hope Solo was suspended for six months after a series of on- and off-field missteps. Her suspension was lifted last month, but she wasn't reactivated to play on the national team.

There may be no real cause for concern yet. The U.S. plays a pair of friendlies against Russia next month in Texas. Coach Ellis says her focus and preparations are all about 2019 and the next Women's World Cup — a tournament the U.S. will be entering as reigning champions.

Meanwhile, as much of the soccer world dissects the latest FIFA rankings, the U.S. men's national soccer team plays a crucial game tonight in a World Cup qualifier against Honduras.

The U.S. men are struggling to make the 2018 World Cup after losing their two opening games in qualifying. At the moment, the U.S. is in last place in the six-team "Hexagonal." Teams have bounced back from similar deficits, but it's not easy. The U.S. enters tonight's game with a new coach, Bruce Arena, and some player absences due to injuries and suspensions.

The match in San Jose, Calif., starts at 10:30 p.m. ET on FS1, UniMas and Univision Deportes.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Russell Lewis
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.